Actress: Salma Hayek
Supporting actor: Alfred Molina
Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto
Production design: Felipe Fernandez del Paso
Costume design: Julie Weiss
A project that’s been in the works for several years, with everyone from Madonna to Jennifer Lopez competing to bring this iconic figure’s story to the screen, “Frida” — about Mexican painter Frida Kahlo — was much anticipated upon its release in October. Like many biopics, especially those about artists, it was met with a mixed reception by devotees of Kahlo and critics who expect filmed biographies to do more than skim the surface of a subject’s life.
Julie Taymor, the avant-garde theater director whose visually spectacular interpretation of Shakespeare (“Titus”) also divided critics upon its release in 1999, has wedded her unorthodox style to a conventional narrative that is perhaps too ambitious in scope.
Pic limns Kahlo’s life and loves from her carefree teens and the horrible bus accident that shattered her spine, through her tempestuous marriage to muralist Diego Rivera until her untimely death at 47.
But far from playing Kahlo as a long-suffering martyr, Salma Hayek injects the artist with a fiery feminism and a lusty spirit that more than matches the gargantuan appetites of Rivera (Alfred Molina).
The actress’s resolute determination to bring this saga to the screen, and the dramatic leap she takes from previous roles, could very well pay dividends come nomination time.
Notably, Marcia Gay Harden won an Oscar two years ago for playing a painter (Lee Krassner) who was married to an egotistical, womanizing artistic titan (Jackson Pollock) in “Pollock.”
In the same genre, Anthony Quinn won a supporting actor Oscar for “Lust for Life” in 1956, while Kirk Douglas was nominated for playing Vincent Van Gogh.
And while critics favorite Molina has a reasonable shot at supporting actor, which is where Miramax is positioning him, supporting players Geoffrey Rush (Leon Trotsky), Ashley Judd (Tina Modotti) and Antonio Banderas (David Alfaro Siqueiros) have far too little screen time to expect Oscar plaudits.
Taymor captures the art and the era — Mexico City and surrounding environs in the ’20s and ’30s — with vivid, colorful pageantry. Much of the credit is due to the work of production designer Felipe Fernandez del Paso; costume designer Julie Weiss; and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, who’s having a banner year, having also shot “8 Mile” and “25th Hour.”